Peering Into the Abyss

October 2008By Maria Hsia Chang

Maria Hsia Chang is Professor Emerita of Political Science at the University of Nevada, Reno, and Adjunct Professor at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, California, during the 2008 spring semester.

"I think the Joker killed Heath Ledger." So writes licensed attorney and former public defender Jay Gaskill in his review of The Dark Knight. Gaskill is not being melodramatic; he is simply stating what other reviewers only hint at.

The Dark Knight, the latest Hollywood incarnation of the superhero Batman, broke records for best opening weekend at $158.4 million. The movie ranked top in box-office sales for four consecutive weekends, pushing its domestic total to a staggering $461 million, and making The Dark Knight second only to the all-time box-office champion The Titanic.

No doubt, many went to see The Dark Knight out of a macabre curiosity because of the untimely death of one of its lead actors. On January 22, 2008, six months before the movie's opening, Heath Ledger was found unconscious in his Manhattan apartment. Paramedics called to the scene could not revive him. The medical examiner later determined that the 28 year old had died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs -- a lethal brew of sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medication, and the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Reviewers have lauded The Dark Knight for its fine acting. In particular, Ledger's "electrifying" performance is singled out for praise; there is increasing talk of a posthumous Academy Award. His face caked with moldy makeup, with black-shadowed eyes, a red-smeared mouth, and yellowing teeth, Ledger's character, the Joker, is more than a sociopathic master criminal. Instead, reviewers use the language of the supernatural, calling him "demonic" and "diabolical" -- "a hound fresh out of hell," "a vivid, compelling picture of naked, nihilistic evil…with almost preternatural power," "a truly frightening vision," and "like Satan." Michael Caine, who plays Batman's butler Alfred, said that he found Ledger's performance so terrifying and disturbing that he sometimes forgot his lines.

You have two options:

  1. Online subscription: Subscribe now to New Oxford Review for access to all web content at newoxfordreview.org AND the monthly print edition for as low as $38 per year.
  2. Single article purchase: Purchase this article for $1.95, for viewing and printing for 48 hours.

If you're already a subscriber log-in here.

Back to October 2008 Issue

Read our posting policy Add a comment
Thank You for this important, courageous, and loving article.
Posted by: tkennane
August 25, 2009 01:05 PM EDT
Frankly one of the most powerful yet disturbing pieces I've read in the NOR. Well done. Posted by: gespin3549
October 08, 2008 05:40 PM EDT
Excellent article, very thought provoking. Posted by: two1176
January 20, 2009 08:23 PM EST
In addition to the references from Tolkien about Gandalf and Frodo, I was expecting to read about Sauroman and Denathor, both of whom were corrupted beyond hope by peering too deeply into the palantírí (stones of seeing), which were controlled at that time by Sauron, the evil Lord of the Rings. Posted by: camainc
July 29, 2010 10:42 AM EDT
Add a comment